Monday, October 31, 2011

#21 Believing Thomas

     When one hears the name "Thomas", he easily associates it with the Biblical disciple named Thomas. Unfortunately for those named Thomas, people also associate a consistent adjective with the name--"doubting". Just as Judas and Benedict Arnold have become synonymous with "traitor" and are used as substitute nouns for that word, and "good" is forever linked with "Samaritan", so "doubting Thomas" has become a noun in itself. It is my hope that by reading this "song", you may see that disciple Thomas gave us much more than the notion of doubting and realize that we are the richer for having known this disciple and his relationship with Jesus.
     I have a son named "Thomas", but I gave him that name for several reasons, none of which is its association with "doubting."  First, we named him after our pastor at the time of Thomas' birth, Thomas Nesbitt. Tom counseled us and provided the spiritual leadership that has continued to sustain and guide me even at this point in my life, despite his position as my church home pastor for only three years. His influence helped to change my life for the better, and I am grateful for Tom's investment in our lives.
     Secondly, my Thomas was named after my grandfather, Thomas F. Glover, who was a respected County Attorney all the years I was growing up and who represented the stabilizing force on my dad's side of the family. When things fell apart, he was the glue that put them back together. Although many of his actions served to enable my father's drinking and addictive behaviors, my grandfather was motivated by love. He consistently stayed devoted to his family in spite of having sons that disappointed him, and he never abandoned his responsibilities of husband, father, and community leader. Thirty-five years after his passing, my grandfather is still remembered in his community as a respectable and honorable man.
     Finally, I named my son after the disciple Thomas, not because the disciple doubted, but because he was a loyal follower of Jesus, believed in the Lord Jesus, and went on to be a leader in spreading the gospel of Christ. 
     Thomas was not present when Christ appeared to the rest of the disciples after His resurrection in John 20:19-23. Jesus spoke peace to them, "showed them his hands and his side," commissioned them to spread the gospel, and breathed on them to "receive the Holy Spirit." Thomas missed out on that important visit and the gifts that were given there. But, Jesus loved Thomas enough to return at another time and to give Thomas an opportunity to believe in Him.
     Those who were present at Christ's appearing went to tell Thomas that they had "seen the Lord" (John 20:25), but Thomas replied, "Unless I see the wounds from the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the wounds from the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe it!" Thomas was probably just as scared as the rest of the disciples had been after Jesus' arrest and crucifixion, and he too was most likely disappointed and confused. He relied on what he could see and feel to believe. Without seeing for himself, he decided he would not believe. His eight days of disappointment and loss of faith were probably agonizing for him. Jesus could have left Thomas in that unbelieving state, but He did not. He did not have to schedule a repeat visit with the disciples to convince them of His resurrection or to give them the Holy Spirit or to reiterate His plan of sending them out to preach. However, He did return, and He came back for Thomas.

     "Eight days later the disciples were again together in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe." Thomas replied to him, " My Lord and my God!"" John 20:26-28

     Jesus cared enough about Thomas that He planned a special visit to him, appeared amidst the disciples even though the doors were locked, and went straight to Thomas and showed him the scars of the wounds that were given Him on the cross.  This was evidence that demanded a verdict. When Jesus asked Thomas to believe, he responded by calling Jesus both his Lord and his God:  "My Lord and my God!" More than believing that Christ was God, Thomas was saying to Jesus, "You are now also Lord of my life."

"What a divine revelation doubting Thomas had been given! He went instantly from disbelief in a resurrected Savior to certain knowledge that Jesus was not only alive but that He was also Lord and God. When confronted with the living truth, all doubts fled. The darkness of the tomb gave way to the Light of the World!"(1)    

     Thomas had already demonstrated his loyalty to Christ in John 11 when Jesus decided to return to Judea because He had heard that His friend Lazarus was sick. The disciples warned Jesus that He was in danger of being stoned if He returned to Judea, but Jesus decided to go anyway. Thomas replied, "Let us go too, so that we may die with him" (v. 16), indicating his loyalty to Jesus and his willingness to die with his friend rather than to be apart from him. Thomas was being a leader among the disciples and stepping up both to obey Jesus (Who had said, "Let us go to him") and to stand with Him in difficult circumstances. Jesus faced both grief, having told the disciples that his friend Lazarus had just died (v. 14), and possible death, having previously been threatened with death in Judea.
     In John 14:1-8 Jesus tells us that He is "going away to make ready a place for you." Thomas had already demonstrated that he was willing to face death to be with Jesus, and he didn't understand where Jesus was "going."  Thomas asked, "Lord, we don't know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus responded in a way that not only answered Thomas' question but also speaks to us and to every other person who seeks to know God. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have known me, you will know my Father too." (v 6-7) Jesus made it clear to Thomas and makes it clear for us today that He is the only way to reach God.
     So many of us are like Thomas --fiercely loyal to the things we can see and prove with our senses, or by the "scientific method." Yet, when faced with difficult circumstances, we sometimes doubt God and wonder if He is still there, still in control of the world, still worthy of our devotion. Thomas must have been grieving deeply over the death of Jesus and the betrayal of his friend and fellow disciple Judas after Christ's death on the cross. Whom could he trust after these losses? Why should he believe the word of his fellow disciples after they claimed to have seen Jesus? Tenderhearted, loyal Thomas was not about to be be hurt or betrayed again. So, Christ took the time to appear to Thomas personally. Because of what Christ did for Thomas, we can surmise that He takes a personal interest in each one of us as well. We have Thomas to thank for showing us loyalty to Christ and leadership among frightened friends, for asking questions of Jesus when he didn't understand, for believing in the resurrection of Christ, and for then following Him and making Him Lord of his life.
   Thomas went on to demonstrate his submission to Christ by obeying His commission to preach the gospel in other places.

"Jesus did not hold Thomas' doubts against him. Instead He addressed those doubts and proved Himself to be faithful to the man He had called as one of His chosen. Christ then empowered Thomas to accomplish the tasks He set before him. Thomas is believed to have become the only apostle who went outside the Roman Empire to preach and teach the gospel. He also crossed the largest area which included Persia and India. Tradition tells us that he was a Martyr and was killed by a group of sages near Mylapore about 72 AD when he was thrown into a pit and pierced by a spear." (2)


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Songs in the Night: #20 A Broken Rose--A Birthday Song

Songs in the Night: #20 A Broken Rose--A Birthday Song

#20 A Broken Rose--A Birthday Song

     Today is my birthday, and as birthdays go, it's been memorable. My birthday season started out a couple of weeks ago with me coming down with bronchitis. I have missed work, a concert, and some meetings, and I've coughed my way through several patient interviews. But, I am finally (cough, cough) on the mend, having passed the evil bug on to both my husband and my daughter. 
     In the days leading up to my birthday, my husband helped me to find the ideal purse as my birthday gift. The camel-colored leather bag, with its tassels and pockets, arrived last week, to my delight, and I have already filled it. David did a great job of sleuthing to get it just right.
     Buying a purse has become, for me, quite a challenge. It has to be long enough to hold my cane when it's folded and still have space for the usual wallet and cosmetic bag. Plus, I carry two cell phones--one for personal use and one reserved just for patients--and my prescription pad and pens, a flashlight, my pocket calendar, identification badges, and the list goes on. The bag can get pretty heavy. Additionally, I need help finding a good color. Last year I found a lovely, chocolate bag at a reasonable price and proudly carried it for a couple of months before I went to see my son for a visit. When he opened the door for me as we were leaving to go out to dinner, he noticed my bag and exclaimed, aghast, "Mom, what are you doing carrying a purple handbag?!" I, too, was aghast. To me it looked brown! I wondered if people might think I am becoming more daring as I get older, or maybe a little odd. I was carrying purple with everything! 
     My mistake with the purse selection brought to mind the poem, "When I Am an Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple"(see below). I like the poem, but if I am going to wear purple, I want it to be because I choose it, knowing that it is purple!
     My birthday week was a bit lonely with my daughter gone on her senior trip and no hope of my adult children coming home for a visit. I approached the weekend with anticipation, however, because I was going to see old friends on Friday. I attended a gleeful gathering of some of my former classmates--all girls from Lee High School in Midland. We had a marvelous time catching up with each other and talking about families, trials, and triumphs. As women of a certain age, we no longer care about the various cliques and  prejudices we had in high school; we just love each other and enjoy the camaraderie. 
     As the evening waned, and the stars came out, I found that I was stuck out on the covered patio, out in the middle of the large back yard in the dark, with no cane or flashlight to get me back to the house. I hadn't really talked much about my visual handicap, didn't want to call attention to it, and hadn't even brought my cane out yet in their presence. (I really don't like my problem to be the topic of conversation if I can help it.)  As I attempted to pick my way through the darkness back to the house, the girls ordered me back to the patio and surprised me with a party! They paraded from the house all in a line carrying gifts, tooting horns, wearing silly glasses and fake noses, and bearing cake! My cupcake sported a singing candle (thank goodness they lit only one!), and the presents and cards were both wonderful and hilarious. 
     It's been a long time since I had a birthday party, and this one was a blast-- full of belly laughs, giggles, guffaws, and even a few tears. They assisted me back to the house after our rowdy revelry. None of us cared about anyone's deficits. We just appreciated our benefits! Thanks, girlfriends. You gave me some new smile lines!
     I even went to bed last night smiling-- from the memory of the party and because of the arrival of my first birthday greeting, four seconds after midnight, from my niece. I awoke this morning contented--ready to get out of bed, eager to get dressed for church, and glad to be able to go to the house of the Lord after being sick for two weeks with bronchitis. None of my children were home for my birthday breakfast, but I had a dear husband to greet me when I came into the kitchen.       
     And greet me he did! David was making tea for me and had placed a bouquet of roses and a sweet card on the kitchen table. How beautiful! I was able to enjoy my tea and roses and set about arranging the flowers while David took his shower. Among the dozen fragrant, long-stemmed, multicolored roses was one red one with a broken stem halfway down the shaft. With only a moment of sadness for the broken rose, I trimmed it and put it in a bud vase by itself. Perfect. A single rose in a cut-glass vase, placed on my bathroom vanity to remind me of my husband's love. The rest I arranged in a large red vase for the kitchen table--roses for two places in the house, instead of one! 
birthday roses and cupcakes
     Once my husband was ready, he accompanied me to church. I read my card as we rode in the church bus from the parking lot to the Worship Center and, as a result,  messed up my mascara! He's a good card picker. I had to read it twice to soak up the precious words and sentiment. Life is good. But, it's better lived with one's soulmate.
     I learned in Bible study class today that the sermon is posted on the You Version Bible phone app each Sunday, and I previewed the sermon notes. I was excited that the pastor planned to speak on the topic, "What's In a Name?" His scripture references were cited as Isaiah 62:2-4 and Revelation 2:17. The second is one of my favorites:

   17 "Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it."
Revelation 2:17 New International Version (NIV)
     It excites me to know that God has a new name for each of His children, for us who love the Lord. He takes what is ruined and makes it new. He mends broken vessels and makes them whole again. He turns ugly into beautiful. He gives us a new name that more accurately describes who we are in Him instead of who we were. 
      One of my favorite songs about this principle is sung by Gwen Smith in the video, "Broken Into Beautiful":

     After class I donned my choir robe and joined the rest of the choir in the rehearsal room for worship. But, I was not to sing in worship this morning or hear the sermon. Just as we were leaving the choir room, my husband came in looking for me with a worried look on his face. He was having chest pain. Our church friends helped me get out of my choir robe and retrieve my things, offered to call an ambulance, looked for aspirin, sat with David while I went to get the car,  and even offered to go with us to the hospital.              
     Fortunately, David is okay, if an outbreak of shingles can be considered "okay," and we are now at home enjoying the rest of our afternoon and evening--grateful that we have each other and our family, grateful that he didn't have a cardiac arrest. He missed the Cowboy game, but he doesn't seem to mind. I missed the sermon and the singing, but that's okay too. David has a good perspective on this, I think. He says, matter of factly, "It's just the shingles again. If I have to choose between the shingles or a heart attack, I'll take the shingles!" 
     My senior daughter came home and presented me with a lovely necklace she bought for me while visiting Taos Pueblo. And, one of my adult children called  and sang "Happy Birthday." Not bad.
      Some might say that my birthday was a not-so-good day, but I don't see it that way. I choose to see it differently--in a different light.  Bronchitis and a broken rose and my husband having a potential heart attack didn't darken my day.  In fact, it turned out just "rosy".  

              Warning - When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple

By Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple
with a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
and satin candles, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired
and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
and run my stick along the public railings
and make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
and pick the flowers in other people's gardens
and learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
and eat three pounds of sausages at a go
or only bread and pickles for a week
and hoard pens and pencils and beer nuts and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
and pay our rent and not swear in the street
and set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.